Walking through Doors
September 24, 2015, 12:00 AM

In “The Gift of Struggle,” concerning the difficulty folks may have in coming to church after a prolonged or painful absence, Eric Elnes writes that we’d like to think “It is possible to arrive at a set of beliefs and/or practices that will ensure that your struggles will be over.  Life will never hurt you; the rug will never again be pulled out from under your feet; the bottom will never drop out; and you will never again experience the pain of failure, uncertainty, ‘lostness,’ or temptation.” 

Instead, Elnes writes, “The message people are yearning to hear is not that their struggles will magically disappear if they just have a little more faith.  They seek a faith that provides a context in which their struggles become meaningful, and thus hopeful.”  (Emphasis added.)

Many years ago, I felt compelled to attend church after a prolonged absence.  I wasn’t sure I believed in God (despite feeling compelled), or the Christian message or anything.  After several months of struggle, I finally arrived at the local Episcopal Church.  The first week, the woman sitting in front of me introduced herself and invited me to coffee hour.  The second week, several people remembered me and said I should sing in the choir.  The third week I was in the choir.

For months thereafter, I was resentful about being in church at all, not sure how I felt about God and everything, but I do love to sing, so I kept going.  It was over a year before I found myself facing God in private confession, and began to release my anger.  I still had tons of questions about my own beliefs, but I had found a safe and supportive place to explore them.

Coming to or returning to church is not always easy.  It takes courage and determination to walk through and to keep walking through that door.  It takes welcome on the inside, and, I think crucially, it takes service, service that is fulfilling, life-sustaining, and fun, service one enjoys doing and hardly even thinks of as service.  For me, that was singing.  I thought I was the one benefitting – and I was – but I was not the only one.  Even when I found it hard to worship, I was helping others do just that.

If you’ve been hurt by church, you are not alone.  If you’re thinking of returning, know that it won’t be easy: expect that it won’t be easy.  But if you come with open hands and your gifts, you may find yourself in a place where you can work out all those questions in company with others who have been on the same road.